Back in July I attended a Big Society event. This was its second launch. There was then another at the Conservative party conference, making today the fourth launch of the Big Society.
But this one was different. Opinion has polarised. Massively.
The Big Society has been condemned by people from all sides – and it looks like today’s re-launch was a reaction to genuine anger, a crumbling of core support and negative headlines (although arguably one of the latter was partly a great issue hijack from CSV). And although, as the day rumbled on, the Number 10 spin machine had obviously got the big backers lined up, it was a big communications miss.
Let’s face it, the government have screwed this up. Big time. And not because the aims of the Big Society are not worth going for – or even that the project is unworkable. Neither of these things are true.
As I said in a PR Week post, there has been a breakdown in communication from the start.
And what is sad is that the communications advice I gave in July, remains true today:
There are five things the Government needs to do to better communicate the Big Society (and it certainly shouldn’t attempt another re-launch):
1 – Ditch the jargon (see my PR Week comment).
2 – Simplify the message. Make it either about volunteering and local services (as the Big Society Network seems to think) and then evolve it nationally, or be honest and make it about delivering more for less.
3 – Unite your influencers and source real examples. Getting to a point where NCVO and charities (who should be enthusiastic supporters) were so negative was a huge mistake and a communications failure. These groups should be providing the real examples of successful delivery, so the government didn’t have to use speculative examples from pet-councils.
4 – Be clear on the call to action and don’t try too many at once. If you want the public to get involved, give them one way to get involved – then again, grow their enthusiasm.
5 – Identify the real barriers to taking up this call to action and address them through targeted communications. There are many barriers, but in time, effective communications working with wider civil society could break these down.
If only the government listened to me then, at least we wouldn’t have been on launch number four (with a fifth rumoured for April).
And if the government doesn’t take my advice above, it should at least make sure ALL ministers are volunteering, so they avoid awful interviews like Francis Maude’s on Radio 4.